California is beginning to make its most significant changes in its prison population since the 1970s to reduce overcrowding – and chip away at a 70 percent recidivism rate, the nation’s highest – as prisons become a major drag on the state's crippled finances, says the New York Times. Fiscal reality, coupled with a court-ordered reduction in the prison population, is eliminating old solutions like building more prisons.
About 11 percent of the state budget, roughly $8 billion, goes to the penal system, putting it ahead of expenditures like higher education, an imbalance Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vowed to fix. The new effort is intended to remove from prisons criminals who are considered less threatening and divide them into those who pose little or no risk outside the prison walls, and those who need regular supervision. The goal is to reduce the 167,000 inmate total the state's 33 prisons next year by 6,500. “People in the criminal justice world are looking at California with great interest,” said Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.